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Moving Your Course Online? Orientation to Online Education

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Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online education is a bit different from live teaching and learning. In today’s podcast, Dr. Bethanie Hansen gives a brief orientation to similarities and differences between live and online education, to help educators prepare to move a class online. Learn how online education is an opportunity to expand your teaching and learning possibilities in new ways, and it is not a strict copy of the live class.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Thank you for joining me today for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Our audience includes educators all over the world, and in varying stages of teaching online. If you’re listening to this particular episode, chances are that you want a general overview of online education, to know if you’ve approached it effectively. Or maybe you just want to get started and have not taught online before.

Today, we’re going to take a look at different kinds of online education and walk through what makes online learning unique. This orientation is a description of what online education is, and what it is not, with some tips to help you think about moving your course online.

Today, we’ll look at a background on live courses, which I like to call “face-to-face,” of “live, traditional classes,” and we’ll briefly explore ideas to help you think about similarities and differences between live and online courses. In the future, we will refer back to this foundation when we talk about how you might move your live class to an entirely online format.

In today’s episode, we’re laying a foundation that will springboard into several topics for future episodes to come even beyond merely moving your course online. So plan now to subscribe to this podcast [Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Pandora.] Share it with your friends and colleagues who are teaching online. And help others you know grow in their own online teaching skills and philosophy. After all, you are not alone teaching online. There are thousands of us teaching online all around the world, and when you share this podcast, you help others feel part of this bigger professional community. And, you might even decide that this is a fun and rewarding career direction.

What is Online Education? 

The term “online education” is widely used today to refer to any learning experience that includes part of the experience online over the Internet. Online education is becoming more common today, particularly due to the world pandemic. By now, most schools, universities, colleges, and organizations have some kind of online education or online training. Online education generally includes various approaches and options for course delivery, such as entirely online classes, blended and hybrid courses, massive open online courses (MOOCs), independent study, and various adaptations of these approaches. Today we are focusing on courses that are taught 100% online. However, many of the tools, concepts, and strategies presented can easily be applied to blended or hybrid and face-to-face environments. 

Entirely Online Education

The 100% online class is now a common form of online education. Perhaps you are teaching this kind of class. In this type of educational experience, courses are offered completely online with students and instructors participating asynchronously within a learning management system (LMS). The LMS is a program or computerized platform that gives structure to the experience, including distinct spaces for document storage, lessons, assignments, discussions, a grade book, and other components.

When participants engage in the course asynchronously, this means that each person is involved in learning activities and dialogue at a time of their own choosing during the day or night and throughout the week. In addition to time gaps between connecting to other people and course content, students and faculty are geographically separated. Everyone may be able to use a variety of technology tools from smartphones to laptops and PCs for access.

Just as a wide variety of internet-accessible devices can be used to engage in online education, the pacing and scheduling of your time in an entirely online course is generally flexible, to some extent. And just like you, students can decide when they would like to participate each week. A minor variation of this model could be that you provide a live lecture, where students are expected to log in at a day and time that has been pre-arranged, to meet with you live through the online course. And with the pandemic, there might even be the option for some to attend live, in the face-to-face classroom, while others view the course live at home using the online platform.

There are some perks to teaching and learning online. First, entirely online courses are considered a versatile option for students who want flexibility. Most of us think that an entirely online course means students can complete their coursework “anytime, anywhere.” Just like them, we as the instructors appreciate the opportunity to teach online courses because they give us flexible scheduling and can be accommodated around our other commitments.

The greatest benefit to courses taught entirely online is the flexibility this learning modality gives us all to engage at our own convenience, and the greatest challenge is the perception of isolation participants may feel due to physical and temporal separation from others in the class. As a faculty member teaching online, it can also seem as though the work follows us everywhere and never ends. Work-life boundaries become much more important. Participating in online education requires a significant degree of self-discipline, time management, commitment, independence, and technology proficiency for both student and faculty. 

Blended (Hybrid) Courses

Blended classes, also commonly called hybrid courses, are increasingly common and involve live, face-to-face meetings as well as online components. In this type of educational arrangement, courses include some live, face-to-face meetings at a pre-determined time and location and some online components such as document storage, assignment submissions, an online grade book, and online resources and lesson content.

Blended courses now come in a variety of combinations, and some universities are referring to these adaptations as “HyFlex” courses. They include aspects of both live and online learning, and while it can be challenging to determine what will be accomplished face-to-face and what belongs in the online component, it’s also possible that this type of online learning is the best of both worlds. You can get the synergy from live discussions during the face-to-face class meetings, which can be a catalyst for deep learning. And, the technology aspects from online components can direct students to more individualized, rich learning content and additional enrichment options.

Instructors must decide how much content will be presented in each of the two course environments, and how to structure the overall experience for learners to avoid doubling the student workload. Benefits of blended courses include a routine to support learners through live meetings where you can clarify things, guide students through the LMS and how to access it, and answer questions. And, the structured flexibility and richness of online components. When you compare blended classes to live, traditional courses, blended classes meet less often to give students time to also complete online work. Fewer live class meetings can present challenges keeping students on track if they miss class. 

Face-to-Face Classes

Face-to-face classes supported by online components are courses provided in traditional, live formats with resources, assignments, or other components organized in a learning management system (LMS). Learning management systems can be effectively used to allow students to submit work outside the classroom environment, send assignments to plagiarism verification services, and enable instructors to grade and return work conveniently online.

The online support used in traditional, live courses may be as basic as using an assignment and grading interface and as elaborate as providing interactive readings, assessments, and multimedia content for homework, and even taking attendance in the LMS. Although classes supported by online components are similar to blended or hybrid offerings, they typically use the online framework only to support the live class, rather than instead of meeting for live classes. One benefit of including online components is the instant nature of submitting work and returning grading feedback. It’s also nice to have the possibility of using interactive textbooks, which add to students’ exploration and learning. 

Adaptability in Teaching

If you think about the many kinds of online options available in education today, it may seem that many approaches and strategies are needed for each institution’s circumstances. This is true, and fortunately, anyone can customize their approach to teaching online to use all or only a little of the structure available. But even when we are customizing our approach to online education, there are many strategies and tools that can be easily used both in live face-to-face classes and when teaching entirely online.

And this brings us to our comparison between live classes and online classes.

Live versus Online Courses 

If you’re thinking about moving you class online and you are worried that things will have to be very different, that could be true. Or, you can consider a few modifications to help move your activities online in ways that maintain a lot of what you would have done with the live class. Just in case you’re a bit nervous about teaching your courses online, I want to reassure you that students can still learn well and have good experiences online.

In a study of students who had taken both live, traditional and entirely online courses, those surveyed overwhelmingly reported that their online experiences were at least as good or better than their on-campus experiences (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2017).

And to give them those positive experiences, we need to decide what essentials to include in the online course design. To decide what you’ll need to modify and what you can keep in this transition of taking an existing live class to teaching your course online, I’ll take a moment to highlight a few things about live classes.

What are the Standard Features of a Live, Traditional Course? 

In saying “live, traditional course,” I’m referring to classes that meet face-to-face, at a set time and in a specific physical location. A live, traditional course is very common and has been the main method of delivering higher education courses over the past several hundred years throughout the world.

In higher education history, enrolling in college meant attending live, traditional classes. Individuals who worked full-time with families and established adult lives found it difficult or impossible to pursue degree programs due to scheduling conflicts, and those who lived too far from campus lacked access to this opportunity. You had to move closer to campus to get a college degree.

Here are some of the features of live, traditional courses:

  • Classes are held live, with the instructor and all participants attending at the same time, in the same location.
  • Students can see each other, interact informally before and after class, and have conversations in real time that include body language, live voices, and the inferences and impressions that accompany face-to-face conversations.
  • If students appear to misunderstand peers or the instructor, they can ask questions in real time.
  • The instructor can immediately introduce new ideas, examples, and resources to provide additional background on a given topic if they seem relevant in the moment.
  • Students who have peers in more than one class can see them in each of these places, and they begin to recognize classmates. Make friends. Build peer relationships that may support and sustain them during the class or throughout their entire adult lives afterward.
  • There is some disconnect between the individual reading, homework, and outside-of-class activities in which students engage as part of the course, when compared to the group dialogue and instruction that occurs during the class itself.
  • When a student misses class, it is difficult to find out all that they missed, because some of the content is social interaction.
  • And of course, my favorite, being physically present in the classroom gives students a sense of formality about the fact that they are attending a class and participating in an educational activity. There’s something about this that triggers the brain to get into learning mode and the physical boundaries of live, traditional classes help cut down the outside distractions and make the class time easier to see as the focus for that hour or so.   

What are the Standard Features of an Online Course?

“Online course” is general, and this could be the 100% online version, the hybrid or HyFlex, or an adaptation of online parts. There are many variations to online education, and online courses have developed into a new educational norm most students experience at some point while completing a degree in one variation or another. 

What I’ll outline here are the standard features that can become part of an online course.

  • Classes are held asynchronously, with the instructor and all participants entering the course at different times and at any location where internet access is available.
  • Students’ interaction with each other occurs in discussion forums, chat spaces, or question and answer threads located somewhere within the course, unless they arrange to communicate further by phone or other means away from the online classroom.
  • Students cannot see each other or their instructor unless photos or videos are posted to provide identity and engagement.
  • Online course conversations do not happen in real time and might consist only of text, unless audio or video clips are added.
  • There is time to think about what you will write and post in the class, and students can think about this too, rather than speaking in the moment. And things posted online can also be edited and revised after they are posted.
  • And when students struggle with concepts or misunderstand, they might be able to look up the answer on the internet immediately or have to wait patiently for others to enter the course and answer their questions, or hear back from their instructor. 

Because most or all of the learning is happening online and in the online classroom space, the learning experience has the potential to be comprehensive and focused. Everything is in one location. There can be a seamless integration between individual work, readings, and course activities, and the teaching and collaborative dialogue that occur in discussion areas.

Each part of the course has a specific location and resources, organized in some type of learning management system (LMS). For example, discussions occur in a specific area and can be accessed by clicking a tab or link in the LMS. Assignments and assignment descriptions are available in a different area, also accessible through a link or tab. With course components each in specific, labeled areas of the LMS, a course has structure and some degree of organization. To be present in the online classroom, all you need to do is log in and click links or activities. When a student misses class, the missed content is still part of the course and they can review what was missed.  

Although the structured online course environment might seem a bit formal, boundaries are challenging to maintain when you are learning or teaching entirely online. You might experience interruptions with your internet connection, or interruptions from your email and social media accounts. And, of course, there are non-technological interruptions, like having someone knock at your door, call you on the telephone, or walk into the room while you’re working to start a conversation. Flexibility in working anytime, anywhere gives individual students and you, as their instructor, the need to set boundaries and also the opportunity to schedule the work at times that fit your own circumstances.     

What are the Similarities and Differences of Live and Online Courses?

In both your live, face-to-face course, and an online course, you will teach or present subject-matter content, allow students to interact, and include some kind of method to give and collect assignments and grading feedback. In both cases, you must be aware of how much work you’re expecting and meet contact hour requirements for the credit hours of the class. And you can get to know your students and interact with them in both types of courses.

Your relationships with students might be different when teaching them entirely online. Some instructors seem to feel more connection with students online, because they can slow down and review what students have said, see their photograph, and get a sense of every student in the class. And some feel that students are harder to get to know when teaching them online. The nature of relationships between students and their instructor or peers is going to be different when you move your course online because there isn’t the single time and space connection, where you experience and get to know them in real time.

The way you present your content also varies. In live traditional courses, you might give a spoken or guided lecture or demonstration. But in online courses, students determine which resources they access, whether they see the lesson, click on a video, or read the online written materials, and how deeply they explore the content, and to some degree, the pace of their learning activities. 

A Discussion of What Online Education Is and Is Not

Although you might want to design your online class to be a duplicate of your live class, it’s a great idea to explore the special strategies and tools available online that could transform your teaching. Online education is an opportunity to expand teaching and learning possibilities in new ways, and it is not a strict copy of the live class.

You can include rich resources, interactivity, and engaging things like videos, apps, multimedia presentations, and other tools, through which your students are free to explore and navigate. For example, students can create an Animoto presentation with photos of themselves and post it in the first week’s discussion forum to introduce themselves to the rest of the class. This type of presentation does not require sophisticated writing or a speech, because it consists mainly of just photographs. Tools like this one can be used creatively to help students produce assignments and discussions, as well as by you, their instructor, to provide engaging lesson content and guidance students need throughout the course.

The engaging aspects of online education continue to grow over time as new apps, programs, and tools are developed. It might be tempting to think online education is a duplicate of the live classroom to ensure important parts of the course are included, but trying to imitate the live course can be difficult. Imitating a live course could mean that an instructor feels compelled to create lecture videos that would simulate what might be provided in a live class, as an example. This is a great idea, but it is not always necessary as part of the lesson content. Although the content itself might be similar between live and online versions of a course, the methods, strategies, and delivery vehicles can be different. 

Online education is a unique modality. It is a specific way to deliver the college or university experience to those who need special scheduling, prefer to work over the computer or internet rather than participate in a live setting, or who have other needs that are met through this modality. And of course, online education is incredibly helpful in unexpected times, like during a pandemic. Online education is not perfect, but it is flexible, enriching, and unique.

Join me next time, on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, when we dive into the details of your online classroom structure. This will be your orientation about the spaces like lessons, discussions, quizzes, assignments, announcements, and more. With this orientation to the different parts of your online classroom, you’ll be prepared to think in more detail when you move your live class to the online format, and you’ll find it a much easier task.

And if you’re already an experience online educator, you’ll get a few new ideas you can try out in your existing online courses, too! Remember, tell a friend, tell a colleague, and let’s help all of us enjoy teaching online much more, and have fun while we’re doing that. Thanks for being here, and best wishes in your online teaching this coming week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen is the Department Chair of Religion & Philosophy, Art, and Music an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) for the School of Arts, Humanities, and Education. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University. She is a Professor, coach, and teaching excellence strategist with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.

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